There have been a great many vampire films of late, dealing with a similar theme. That of the remorseful blood sucker who tragically attempts to love a mortal and must deal with the inevitable consequences of such a union. It’s been there since the original DRACULA and has continued with Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, THE LOST BOYS, NEAR DARK, 2008’s brilliant LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, HBO’s TRUE BLOOD, and of course TWILIGHT. These films point out that it really sucks (OH!) being a vampire and immortality is a lonely-ass gig unless you have an attractive companion to pass the nights with. I can dig it.
Chan-wook Park’s brilliant new vampire film THIRST takes this theme into an even darker and more tragic place than I’ve ever seen. It can almost be viewed as the anti-TWILIGHT in how it shows the horrifying reverse side of vampire love. No flying over trees or going to the prom in this one. Park has given us a film that deals with two people addicted to each other for different reasons and provides great insight into the nature of human relationships.
Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song) is a catholic priest who delivers last rites to the dying in a South Korean hospital. He is deeply troubled by his inability to save the lives of the poor souls he prays for. So much in fact, that he decides to volunteer for a possibly fatal experiment to find a cure to a rare blood disease. He is injected with a strain of the deadly virus and when his body begins to shut down from it, he’s given a transfusion of blood from an anonymous donor. Well, the donor appears to have been a vampire, because the priest dies and then miraculously comes back to life moments later. As the only volunteer to have survived the experiment he returns to the hospital as a “messiah” of sorts to the sick, who believe he can cure them by praying for them. But soon the priest realizes he’s not quite the same as before. He can’t eat, his skin burns from sunlight, and he’s starting to crave human blood. Desperate not to harm anyone, Sang quenches his thirst by syphoning a pint or two from comatose patients and an open wrist from his blind father. He seems to have it under control until he meets Tae-joo (Ok-vin Kim), who is unhappily married to a childhood friend of his and forced to live with her abusive Mother-in-law. Perhaps it’s the vamp blood coursing through him, but he begins to crave her in a way that causes him even more anguish and soon his priestly vows are broken. They begin a sexual affair and before long Tae-joo discovers Sang’s secret. The demands the relationship makes after this take a harsh toll on Sang as it all starts to dissolve into something horribly evil.
Chan-wook Park is a master visual stylist with an incredible ability to take a genre and really tear it apart from the inside out. In the same way OLDBOY is not your typical “revenge” tale, THIRST would have been a provocative story of a catholic priest’s struggle with his own sexual identity without the vampire element. With it, the story becomes a dark, violent tale of a man trying to do what’s right but inevitably causing far more damage than good. It’s an erotic, brutal, occasionally humorous, and ultimately tragic film, with one of the most beautiful endings I’ve seen in awhile. This material is very familiar, but THIRST is a film that you will not be able to predict at all. It moves on it’s own momentum and you’ll never see where it’s going until you get there. I highly recommend it.